Testimony: Iraqi Efforts to Build WMD

Testimony of Gary Milhollin

Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control

Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

June 15, 1990

I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the Se4ate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject of Iraq’s effort to build nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and long-range missiles.

I am a member of the University of Wisconsin Law School faculty and director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington, D.C.–a project devoted to slowing the spread of nuclear weapons to developing countries.

Iraq has now begun a great experiment. After importing the means to make chemical weapons, it is trying to import the means to make nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. The experiment will consist of testing the export control systems of the
developed countries to see whether such an effort can succeed.

At present, Iraq has no means of making nuclear weapon material. Its forty megawatt, French-supplied nuclear reactor called Osirak is not operating. The reactor is still suffering the consequences of having been bombed by Israel with U.S. planes in 1981. If the reactor is rebuilt, it could make enough plutonium for up to two atomic bombs per year. There has been one report that the reactor may be about to start, but the International Atomic Energy Agency states that the reactor’s fuel has not been taken out of storage.

Iraq is also trying to make enriched uranium–the other nuclear weapon material. It hopes to build gas centrifuges that will enrich natural uranium to nuclear weapon grade. To do so, it has imported machines from Germany for making centrifuge bodies and, according to press reports, special magnets from China that will help the centrifuges operate. It is unknown how far Iraq’s centrifuge effort has progressed.

To make parts for the bomb itself, Iraq tried to smuggle the components for a nuclear weapon triggering system out of the United States in March. The nature of the components, and the fact that Iraq tried to smuggle them, show that they were not intended for peaceful purposes.

Iraq also has an ambitious program for making long-range missiles. It has modified a Soviet-supplied tactical missile to increase its range to about 400 miles, it has tested a longer range version of that missile that flies 560 miles, and it has cooperated with Egypt and Argentina to develop a two-stage, solid fuelled intermediate-range missile. In December 1989, Iraq surprised the world by testing the first stage of a satellite launcher made from five Soviet-style tactical rockets strapped together. During the same month, Iraq claimed that it had tested a ballistic missile with a range of over 1000 miles.

I have appended to my statement tables showing the current status of Iraq’s nuclear and missile programs.

It is clear that Iraq has fielded a well-financed, world¬wide procurement network that will test export controls to their limit. Unfortunately, the Western countries are weakening their export controls at exactly the same time that this is going on.

Last week, the COCOM countries met in Paris to remove thirty items from the COCOM export control list. COCOM (the Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls to Communist Countries) was set up by the United States and its allies after World War II. COCOM was invented to stop the Soviet Union from getting the American technology going to Europe under the Marshall Plan. Since then, COCOM has expanded to include Japan and all the NATO countries except Iceland. It prohibits high technology exports to the Warsaw Pact and other Communist countries.

Among the items decontrolled last week were the very nuclear weapon triggers that Iraq tried to smuggle out of the United States in March. Also decontrolled were the very machines that Iraq is counting on to make the bodies for its uranium enrichment centrifuges–called spin-forming and flow-forming machines. Although the COCOM countries intended to decontrol these items mainly to benefit the newly-free countries of Eastern Europe, the effect will probably be to decontrol them for Iraq too.

This is true for several reasons. First, by dropping these items from the COCOM list, they will, in the normal course of events, be removed from any licensing control at all for buyers in Eastern Europe. From any COCOM country they can go to Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia like a bag of onions. There will be no record of the shipments. Hence, there will be no control on re¬export from East Europe to other destinations. This means that Iraq can order U.S. bomb triggers through front companies in Eastern Europe without breaking any laws. So can India, Israel, Pakistan, South Africa and any other country that wants to make the bomb or long range missiles.

Second, these items will fall completely off the export control lists of the European members of NATO unless each country makes a special effort to keep them on. Unlike the United States, where the commodities dropped off the COCoM list will still be controlled because of the U.S. policy against nuclear arms proliferation, the COCOM list is the only basis for export control in most European members of NATO. There is no separate control list for stopping nuclear arms proliferation or the spread of ballistic missiles. If an item falls off the COCOM list it drops completely out of these countries’ export control systems. So far, there is not much evidence that our COCOM partners will make a special effort to control these items for nuclear or missile proliferation purposes. If they don’t, our partners’ companies will be able to export the decontrolled items to the Third World directly.

Third, even if there were some form of control over these items when exported to Eastern Europe, there would still be a great risk of diversion. These cash-starved and capital-poor regimes do not have functioning export control systems. There will be a great risk that their companies will break the conditions of sale even if conditions are imposed.

The thirty items taken off in June are just the beginning. By the end of 1990 the entire COCOM export list will be scrapped and a much shorter one substituted. Unless something happens to change things, the deletions will be a giant import bonanza for Third World bomb and missile makers.

Unfortunately, the United States itself is not entirely free of guilt when it comes to exporting to Iraq. During the past few years, the Commerce Department has approved the export of mainframe computers and high speed oscilloscopes to Iraq. High-speed oscilloscopes are uniquely able to process the data from nuclear tests. They are also used to develop, test and maintain missile guidance systems and to receive and sort the telemetry from missile flight tests. It is virtually certain that the U.S. oscilloscopes are now helping Iraq develop ballistic missiles.

It is very likely that the mainframe computers are helping too.

These exports were quietly approved in the days when Iraq was fighting Iran. This short-sighted decision was only possible because the U.S. export control process is secret. The Commerce Department, which makes the export decisions, and the Department of Energy, which keeps the records, refuse to tell the public what cases have been approved or even considered. Not even the export license, which is the official record of a government action, is available despite the fact that all of these exports are required to be for civilian purposes. I believe that if the Commerce Department’s export control process were opened to public and Congressional scrutiny, dangerous exports like the oscilloscopes would not be approved.

There are other examples of U.S. confusion on exports to Iraq. In March 1990, the Commerce Department announced a list of commodities that would be controlled to inhibit missile proliferation. The list was intended to implement the Missile Technology Control Regime, a seven country accord to which the United States is a party. Two of the commodities added to the U.S. list in March, however, were deleted from the COCOM list in June. This means that a U.S. exporter will not be able to send the commodities to Iraq without a validated license, but could send them almost anywhere in Europe without such a license.

Thus, an Iraqi buyer could obtain the U.S. items simply by ordering through a European front company. The United States seems to be controlling the same commodities with one hand that it is trying to decontrol with the other.

The United States has also been too timid in its reaction to Iraqi smuggling. Iraq tried to buy the same switches in March that Israel obtained in 1980 and Pakistan tried to obtain in 1983. Iraq’s chance of success in such a clumsy operation was probably less than ten percent. It is clear that the risk of getting caught was not a deterrent. If the United States is going to stop such brazen actions, it must do more than arrest the small fry that get caught. It must act against the governments that hire them.

This does not appear likely under the current policy of the State Department. According to the Los Angeles Times, the State Department opposed the sting operation against Iraq in March. State said that it preferred to “work quietly with Iraq to discourage Iraq from trying to produce nuclear weapons without creating a public furor…” According to the Washington Post, a State Department official even said that “Our approach has been to try to find common areas to engage Iraq so that the more anti¬social aspects of its nature could be modified in time by drawing it into international activities.”

It is time to recognize that the spread of weapons of mass destruction to countries such as Iraq threatens U.S. security at least as much–and possibly more–than technology transfers to what remains of the Warsaw Pact. The East-West arms race is being replaced by a North-South arms race. We must now change our export policy to accomodate this fact.

Type and Start-Up Plutonium Safeguards
Reactors Capacity Date Through 1989
IRT-5000 Pool; 1967 yes
Osirak Pool; 40MWt; Destroyed yes
(Tammuz I) HEU fuel in 1981 air strike
Tammuz II Pool; 500-800 1987 yes
(critical assembly) KWt

Name Range Payload Accuracy Comments
(Miles) (Pounds) (CEP in

SS-lc Scud-B 40 1000 550- Single stage, solid-
750 fuelled, unguided,
spin-stabilized, with mobile launch platform. Imported from the Soviet
170- 1900- 975- Single stage,
190 2200 1000 storable liquid-
fuelled, inertially guided, with mobile launch platform. Imported from the Soviet Union.

Al-Husayn 380- 300-860 1760- Single stage,
(modified- 400 3520 storable liquid-
Scud B) fuelled, inertially guided, with mobile launch platform.
Iraqi modification of Soviet Scud.


Name Range (Miles) Payload (Pounds) Accuracy (CEP in Yards)
Al-Abbas 560 250+ 3520-
(modified- 5280
Scud B)
Condor II 500- 1000 N/A ‘
Tammouz I 1250 N/A N/A